This HOFer looking to help get Abreu on track

April 17th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- Veteran first baseman José Abreu was out of the Astros' lineup Tuesday against the Braves after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the series opener a night earlier. Abreu is 4-for-49 (.082) with one extra-base hit and one RBI this season and has been dropped from fifth to eighth in manager Joe Espada’s batting order in the matter of a couple of weeks.

The Astros still hope things can turn around for Abreu, who’s in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract. Enter Jeff Bagwell, the Hall of Fame slugger who’s the team’s senior advisor to ownership and baseball operations and is invested in the club’s performance -- and particularly Abreu’s -- more than anyone.

At the urging of hitting coach Alex Cintrón, Bagwell and Abreu spent about an hour together Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park -- first talking about hitting in the dugout before Bagwell watched Abreu take early batting practice on the field. The pair talked behind the cage several times, with Bagwell giving advice along the way.

“Most of the stuff I do is we just talk,” Bagwell said in an interview with “We talk about approach, talk about what’s going on and their thought process and what’s comfortable and what’s uncomfortable. And maybe what I thought about when I was struggling and how that could relate to anything that those guys do. It’s no different than anything I do with the Minor League kids.”

Bagwell routinely gives advice to hitters, but most of that takes place in the indoor batting cage and away from the cameras and reporters. All eyes were on Bagwell and Abreu on Monday as the pair went to work more than four hours before game time.

“I think it’s good to hit on the field because you get to see the spin of the baseball off his bat, to see what it’s doing,” Bagwell said. “If the ball’s hooking, you’re coming around the ball. If the ball’s slicing, then you’re slicing through it. It’s no different than golf. You get a good feel for that. The last 10 swings he took were good. Now it’s just up to getting the pitches you want and being able to hit them. Mechanics are part of that, and if the mechanics are off, you’re certainly not going to get hits in this game.”

Abreu got off to a slow start last season and heated up in September and swung the bat well in the playoffs. He missed about a week during the spring with a right knee injury, which Bagwell said put him behind. Bagwell said Abreu is late getting started with his swing, which makes pitch recognition tougher and makes it harder to be on time.

“When you’re struggling and the team’s struggling, it’s mentally draining, especially on somebody like him,” Bagwell said. “That’s just part of the deal. I was just trying to take his temperature and see where he’s at and talk over a few things. At the end of the day, you don’t turn this game on and off as far as hitting goes. You can have all the right thoughts and everything like that, and if a guy makes pitches, you’re out. They’re [the pitchers] better than us, but we make our money on mistakes. We just got to get him back to that feeling again.”

Abreu works tirelessly on his swing and puts a lot of pressure on himself, Bagwell said. When the team is struggling and you’re performing, it can wear on a player.

“He’s a professional,” Bagwell said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s what you want to see in a guy where you don’t know if they’re 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. I’d much rather be 4-for-4 and be calm. We’re a results-based game and he’s not happy with his results, so we have to try and work on it to get better. You can’t just sit there and not do anything about. You have to work, and he’s always worked as hard as anybody I know.”